On blogging, funding, effectiveness and more

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Several comments have come in of late suggesting I need to spend more time checking my typos and grammar in blogs because sometimes both can go a little awry.

I have to agree that they can. I accept that typos have always been an issue. And some of my sentences have always had an ability to run away with themselves. Convolution inevitably follows.

So, given that readership is quite high at present and it does appear that it evolves, and even revolves, over time I thought it with explaining why I put up with both issues.

The first reason why is that the odd error does not seem to put people off. Over five years now the average annual readership of the blog exceeds 2 million per annum. 2017 was an exceptional year, but no one is more surprised than me that people keep coming here.

Second, these errors do not seem to stop others wanting to republish my material. This morning The National newspaper in Scotland and the German-based Brave New Europe blog carry article that first saw life here in recent days. Naked Capitalism does so fairly regularly in the USA. I am grateful.

Third, the blog exists as a stream of consciousness. Understanding this is important. No one entry is in itself ever expected to be the final comment on an issue. The blog is instead an ongoing attempt to find meaning in a deeply confusing world. I might well do this for myself even if I did not publish. I was persuaded as long ago as 2006 to publish the ideas as a blog by Den Howlett. From that time on I have done so most days and on average more than three times a day. This will be the 16,602nd blog post here.

What that says is that there is a lot to think about. And given that this has never been my day job (most especially so in the last three or so years) it has had to be crammed in around  work and other commitments such as being the effective sole parent to my teenage sons due to my wife's ongoing ill health, as well as multiple other tasks.

What that also means is that blogging is always in a hurry. Often it starts well before breakfast in the morning. Moderation happens when I get time in the day. And I do look at everything: this is not a place where I will tolerate abuse of those who comment.

Given all that, I place an emphasis on getting stuff out, and accepting a slight compromise on quality as a result. Hence the errors and occasional opacity (or worse, incomprehensibility). I hope I can be forgiven for two reasons. The first is that I have remarkably limited resource to do anything about it. The second is that I intend to keep doing this.

Few blogs have survived as long as this one, or with as much output, and maybe impact (again, much to my surprise). I also suspect few have also had as much useful comment: more than 170,000 of which have now been made.  That’s usually because the blogger gets ground down by the experience, and I am well aware that on occasion my irritation with those who come here to be fatuous does show. My only defence is that it would take someone considerably more saintly than me (and I am not saintly, at all) to not get irritated by the sheer negativity that some wish to bring to social media debate. The willingness to get rid of those who come to attack is the sole reason this blog has survived, but also provides what I hope feels like a fairly safe space for others to contribute. That’s always been a goal.

But the real reason for continuing is that the core issues that fascinate, intrigue and infuriate me remain as relevant as ever. It’s true that I do less now on tax than I did: that’s because there are now so many other competent people in this field. But I still keep an interest in some aspects of that issue, and am working on proposals for new tax work right now.

Accounting is now much more important to me, which is hardly surprising given I have been a chartered accountant since 1982.

The Green New Deal virtually survived here and here alone for a number of years: it’s unlikely to go away now, bit still requires regular comment.

MMT is better known than it might have been in the UK because of this blog.

There remains the whole field of political economy for the common good to debate.

And the reason for debating is that in my experience good things follow from doing so. Significant changes in tax law have happened, at least in part because of what has been debated here.

As noted, Colin Hines and I largely kept the Green New Deal alive for a number of years, mainly through blogs and reports that appeared mainly through this blog, until the time that it suddenly sprang into life again.

The Fair Tax Mark began as an idea promoted on this blog in 2012.

Country-by-country reporting got more coverage here for many years (almost a decade)  than anywhere else before it went centre stage.

Green QE, or People’s QE, pretty much started here. And that certainly shaped Corbynomics.

The Corporate Accountability Network is now growing out of ideas started here.

And the GERS debate in Scotland has been fuelled by commentary that I’ve pushed from here.

The point I am, I hope, making, is that all this writing is not for nothing, even if many right wing commentators like to suggest it is time I got a ‘proper job’.

Actually, what I discovered over the last three or so years of having a full time role was that this was most definitely not helpful. I enjoyed the work, teaching and research at City but being at a university does not help productive thinking. And my experience of academic research writing (and I have had six papers out in the last year) is that this is most definitely not the way to promote new ideas, unless you are very lucky indeed with your editor (as Andrew Baker and I were with Global Policy when it came to tax spillovers).

Where does all this rumination lead? It’s to the question I am now asking myself as to what I do next. I leave City this summer. I am in discussion with two other universities. And the Corporate Accountability Network is both pursuing research agendas with vigour, and seeking new funding, but needs more people involved than just me if it is to succeed.

So, has the time come after all these years to consider monetising this blog? I have no intention of ever putting it behind a firewall. That would make no sense. Rather, I am considering following the route that Steve Keen has gone down (and which he has urged me to replicate) of seeking financial support for original thinking which is very hard indeed to secure from any academic linked funder, and from most foundations too.

I stress, I am not knocking those funders, but they look for tangible and predictable outcomes in the main. So they want a specific publication, or an event, or whatever. In effect, you have to know what you’re going to do before you apply for the funding. And that means their funding is not really suitable for those simply exploring new ideas, where the outcomes are unpredictable.

An exception to this funding rule is the Jospeh Rowntree Charitable Trust. They did fund me from 2010 to 2015, but that’s as long as they will do for anyone. And I know of no one else who, in effect, pays for a thinker to look out of the window and wonder what would happen if their thoughts were let rip, which is what I do best.

And that is why I now wonder whether this is the time to appeal for funding, via this blog, for at least part of my time, to make sure that whatever innovations come next can have the effort dedicated to them to make sure they can see the light of day.

I am interested in three things now. One is general feedback. The second is specific views on funding platforms. And the third is suggested pitfalls (including the risk I find out that I am valued at £7.56, less expenses). Comments are welcome here or by email via richard.murphy[at]taxresearch.org.uk.

And if it’s a really bad idea, I’d like to know why too.